I’d intended to post something at the end of last month, on the occasion of what would have been his 104th birthday, about the great jazz bassist Milt ‘The Judge’ Hinton (June 23 1910 – Dec 19 2000); but for one reason and another I didn’t get round to it.
Anyway in the Youtube video below Milt gives a lesson in jazz bass playing. And below that is a heart-warming story from fellow-bassist Bob Cranshaw, via my pal Michael Steinman at Jazz Lives.
Michael Steinman writes: The extraordinary pianist Ethan Iverson (of The Bad Plus) has a superb blog called DO THE MATH, and most recently he has offered a lengthy, lively conversation with string bassist Bob Cranshaw here. This story seized me.
BC: Milt Hinton was one of the first bass players that I heard. This was before TV. I heard him on the radio. I think he was my biggest influence. When I heard him play, the shit was swinging so hard that the radio was about to jump off the table. I went to my father, and I said, “I want to play that.”
I have a story about Milt when I came to New York. I had been in New York maybe a few months, and I was on 48th and Broadway. I was on my way to rehearsal with somebody and I had a bag on my bass that was raggedy and about to fall off, but I couldn’t afford anything else. I was walking down to the rehearsal and this gentleman dressed with a tie stopped me on the street. He said, “Hi. What’s your name?” I said, “Bob Cranshaw.” He said, “Are you a professional bassist?” I said, “Yes, sir.” He said, “I’m Milt Hinton.” I said, “Oh, shit.” It was like meeting God. Here’s my mentor.
He took me into Manny’s and he bought me a bass case on the spot.
EI: Really? Hadn’t even heard you play a note?
BC: Took me and bought me a bass case right there. He said as a professional, I couldn’t be walking around with a bag like that. What I teach in my method and my thought of music is, I say, “The Milt Hinton Method,” because when I came, I followed Milt around. I used to just go. They were doing a lot of recording. They were recording all day. I would just go to the date and I would sit on the side. I didn’t want to disturb anybody, but just to watch him. What I got from watching him was when – it could be 50 musicians – when The Judge walked into the room, you could feel the energy. Everybody was talking. That was the kind of guy he was. That was the life. He was my biggest, my most wonderful influence, was watching The Judge. When I started to play, when I started to work with Joe Williams and so forth, Milt did all the record dates. He was part of the rhythm section with Osie Johnson and a couple other guys. I would go to the dates and just watch him because I was working with Joe and I was going to have to play the same music the next week. I said, “I might as well get it from the horse’s mouth. Let me get the first thing and then I have a better understanding of what I need to play when we go out on the road with Joe Williams.”
I followed Milt’s career all the way to the point where I used to call him every Sunday. I’d say, “Judge, I just want me blessing,” just to talk to him and so forth. One Sunday I called, and his wife said, “The Judge is at a club meeting.” I’m saying, “He’s almost 90 years old. What kind of club meeting? What could he be into now?” There was a club called the Friendly Fifties that are in New York and I’m a member now. I joined following his thing. It was what guys like Jonah Jones and a bunch of the older guys put together, this club, so that the wives could be more together when they were traveling. These were the early days. I became part of the Friendly Fifties, and I wrote an article for Allegro at the union about all of these famous guys that were part of this club that nobody had any idea it existed.
I love the rest of the stories — because Milt in person was the embodiment of Wise Joy — but it is the little anecdote of the bass case that catches me and will not subside into a Nice Anecdote about One of My Heroes. You will notice that Milt didn’t lecture the young man about how wrong he was; he didn’t sell him a case and ask for money to be paid back; he was serious but gently fixed what was wrong with loving alacrity.
We all praise Kindness as a virtue. We try to be Kind. But how many of us would have made it so vibrantly alive as Milt did? Kindness in Action.
Several years ago, I wrote a post I am still proud of: I called it What Would Louis Do?.
Meaning Louis no disrespect, I would like to propose the quiet religion of Hintonism. Nothing new except the name. Doing good without asking for recompense. Taking good care of a stranger.
When we lie down in bed at night, we could ask ourselves, “Did I do my Milt today?” If we did, fine. We could try to do several Milts the next day, and ever onwards. We might have less money, but we’d be surrounded by love and that love would surely be immortal. Just a thought.
May your happiness increase!
Singer Jimmy Scott died Thursday morning at his home in Las Vegas at age 88, according to his booking agent, Jean-Pierre Leduc. Scott’s death was a result of complications from Kallmann’s syndrome, a lifelong affliction that prevented his body from maturing through puberty.
Scott was labeled Little Jimmy Scott by bandleader Lionel Hampton in the late 1940s. Hampton also delivered the first of many professional slights in 1949 when he left Scott’s name off on an early hit, “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool.”
Scott’s career seemed promising after he left Hampton’s orchestra. He recorded for various independent labels and toured with a revue run by dancer Estelle “Caledonia” Young that included R&B singer Big Maybelle and comedian Redd Foxx.
Throughout the early ’50s and ’60s, Scott recorded for various indie labels including Savoy, where he was under the tight control of owner Herman Lubinsky.
According to Scott’s 2002 autobiography, The Life of Jimmy Scott (written with David Ritz), Lubinsky halted production of a 1963 album that was personally supervised by Scott fan Ray Charles for his own Tangerine label. Lubinsky used legal proceedings to halt distribution, claiming Scott was under contract to Savoy. The album was eventually rescued and released in 2003 and has been widely hailed as one of the great jazz vocal albums.
The experience of having his album shelved — not to mention the hardships he experienced being misidentified as a woman, accused of drug addiction and harassed about his sexual identity because of his voice — took a toll and Scott left the music business, moving back to his native Cleveland and becoming a hotel clerk.
Despite his absence, Scott maintained friends and fans in the music business, including legendary R&B producer Doc Pomus, who requested that Scott sing at his 1991 funeral. A record executive in attendance heard the performance and signed him to a record contract on the spot, kick-starting Scott’s second act. This time adulation came rushing in, resulting in a string of albums that received both popular and critical acclaim. He even appeared in the final episode of the singular TV hit Twin Peaks.
For most of his nearly nine decades Scott’s life and art were affected by loss: first his mother’s death when he was 13, then the personal slights and missed opportunities in his fractured career and decades of anonymity away from the record business. In 2000, The New York Times called him “perhaps the most unjustly ignored American singer of the 20th century.”
And yet in a late-career interview Scott was philosophical about the bad breaks he had caught along the way. “I’ve learned that music is such a healer,” he said. “As long as I could sing my songs, I wasn’t as angry about what had happened, about being shoved back for this or shoved back for the other. I’m a singer, and I never lost sight of that.”
Peaches Geldof, who died on Monday, had become a serious and thoughtful person, and a very good writer. In her memory, we re-publish this powerful piece that she wrote for The Independent, published on 9 October 2012. Happily, Peaches lived to see this battle won, but her message of tolerance, love and decency is still worth reading, and stands as a fitting memorial:
In the summer of 2003 I was 14 years old, and my best friend was a gay boy named Daniel. He was smart, funny and totally unaware of how beautiful he was. Everyone seemed to be in love with him at some point, but he was in love with his school friend Ben.
Every day after classes ended, Daniel, Ben and I would hang out. For a little bit, they could both be funny, bitchy queens in the most unashamed and wonderful way, and all was right in the world. Time would glide. As the years progressed we three drifted our way through youth, our journeys disjointed but always seeming to connect at significant points along the way.
Daniel came out to his parents two years after he and Ben became serious. He was 16. I was there when he told them, I don’t know if he’d planned on me being there for support, he never told me. I sat hiding at the top of the stairs in his house, listening. His mother laughed, I’d always loved her laugh, it sounded musical, like bells ringing, and I remember that laugh was just full of love in that moment, and she said to him she’d always known and how happy she was that he had experienced love and it didn’t matter who with. His father echoed her sentiments entirely and I heard the intake of breath that always seems to precede a meaningful hug.
Back in his room, his face seemed different somehow. Where once his eyes had seemed to me to be restless and distant at times, now they just shone. His whole face shone, with this pure elation, and in that ephemeral moment I realised how these revelations people make to the ones who mean something to them, can make a person into something great or break them entirely.
Accept and respect
And Dan was made in that moment. He was whole. I remember vividly having this weird image in my head of the old Disney movie of Pinocchio, where the good fairy turns him into a real boy. And looking back I guess Daniel had been exactly that, just wooden, all that time before. I learned that day that all you really need to do to make someone happy is to accept who they really are, and respect who they are.
Weeks passed and Ben still hadn’t participated in the big coming out party. Where once our after-school hangouts had been easy, effortless fun, now they seemed tense. Instead of Ben and Daniel’s relationship becoming more open, it seemed all the more clandestine. They both confided in me in emotional, tearful phone calls and I began to feel like the go-between. I was falling into other interests and felt myself pulled in a different direction, away from these boys that were so much a part of me. I started loathing our meetings because I could see how terrified Ben was of revealing himself to his parents, and how Daniel was pushing him to the point where it seemed inevitable that he would just leave.
What he didn’t understand, having never met them due to Ben’s terror of being caught out, was that Ben’s parents were different to his. His mother was, and always had been, a housewife who had raised him, his two sisters and three brothers seemingly without any help as his father, a Protestant priest, had staunchly archaic views on where a woman’s place was. Weeks, months passed. We grew and changed, summers came and went. It was winter two years later when the ultimatum was issued, and by then too much was at stake, and Ben did come out to his parents. I sat there, on the same patch of grass in Cavendish Square, worn down from our school shoes, and my friend wept as the words left his mouth. I grieved for them, knowing I could never take the words back for him myself.
His mother was devastated, his father, in his words, “ruined”. They both told him he was sick and a failure. He left home. How, of course, could he have stayed. I think, after that, Ben hated Daniel a little bit, partly because he had pushed him to come out, partly because he was jealous. But in the end he loved him more, and Daniel’s parents allowed him to move in to their house and live there with him.
Years passed. We had kept in touch by email, but our lives had taken us in different directions and our friendship wasn’t the same any more. It was December, freezing, when I received the invitation to their wedding. They had been living in New York, where gay marriage had been legalised. I was elated. More than that. These boys, who had been such an intrinsic part of my teenage years, were finally getting what they deserved. It was a beautiful moment.
In New York, the snow had covered everything in a soft white blanket, making it new again. As everyone was gathering outside the city hall, I spotted Ben’s parents. They seemed nervous, but they were there. I assumed they had eventually come round to his sexuality, but he later told me they had turned up without telling him. He had sent them an invite, half out of defiance and half out of hope, but had never expected them to be there for him. In that moment I saw how powerful marriage can be.
A nation of dictating pigs
This man, who I loved so much, was marrying his best friend, his soul mate. Taking vows to stand by him until death. And why not? Why, if these two men wanted to be married in the country they were born in, would it only be regarded as a “civil partnership” – a title more insulting than anything else, a half measure. It’s not as if us saintly heteros take the institution of marriage so seriously, is it? A recent study shows same-sex civil partnerships lasting longer than straight marriages, and divorce at a record high.
I have had first-hand experience of how wonderful the introduction of gay marriage has been, and how negative and potentially damaging it is to not allow it, which just breeds more homophobia. For a country and culture that declares ourselves so progressive, our governments, citizens and, of course, our churches, can be small-minded bigots at the best of times. One day we’ll look back on the gay marriage ban as we look back on historical events like apartheid. Because in the end, that’s what it is, pointless, futile segregation. I long for the day when we break free of this Orwellian ridiculousness, a nation of dictating pigs, where “all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others”.
And even if Daniel and Ben’s marriage was a small squeak of opposition drowned out in the roar of prejudice, at least it happened. And it will continue to happen, til death do they part.
I often, these days, worry about growing old … until (as Woody Allen once said) I think about the alternative.
But these three elderly gentlemen, filmed in 1981 after 56 years of working together, demonstrate that we can grow old with style, dignity and an intact sense of romance:
My One and Only Love’s favourite song (this version by the wonderful Ella):
… there’s also a nice instrumental version of this lovely ballad (written by Guy Wood and Robert Mellin in 1952), by the unlikely jazz violin team of Joe Venuti and Stephane Grappelli …
… and an instrumental/vocal rendition by tenorist John Coltrane and vocalist Johnny Hartman…
… and, of course, there’s Frank …
… but My One and Only’s favourite version is this:
Of all the eulogies to Nelson Mandela there have been over the past eleven days, this one was probably the most powerful, sincere and moving. I defy anyone to watch and listen with completely dry eyes:
Below is the official version of Ahmed Kathrada’s speech, but it varies somewhat from what he said on the day, suggesting that some of his remarks (eg: that extraordinary closing comment, “My life is in a void and I don’t know who to turn to”) were entirely spontaneous:
The last time I saw Madiba alive was when I visited him in hospital. I was filled with an overwhelming mixture of sadness, emotion and pride. He tightly held my hand until the end of my brief visit. It was profoundly heartbreaking. It brought me to the verge of tears when my thoughts automatically flashed back to the picture of the man I grew up under. How I wished I’d never had to confront the reality of what I saw.
I first met Madiba in 1946; that’s 67 years ago. I recalled the tall, healthy and strong man; the boxer; the prisoner who easily wielded the pick and shovel at the lime quarry on Robben Island. I visualised the prisoner that vigorously exercised every morning before we were unlocked. What I saw at his home after his spell in hospital was this giant of a man, helpless and reduced to a shadow of his former self.
And now the inevitable has happened. He has left us and is now with the “A Team” of the ANC – the ANC in which he cut his political teeth; and the ANC for whose policy of a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa he was prepared to die.
He has joined the “A Team” of his close comrades: Chief Luthuli; Walter Sisulu; Oliver Tambo; Dr Yusuf Dadoo; Jack Simons; Moses Kotane; Bram Fischer; Dr Monty Naicker; JB Marks; Helen Joseph; Ruth First; Professor ZK Matthews; Beyers Naude; Joe Slovo; Lilian Ngoyi; Ma Sisulu and Michael Harmel.
In addition to the ANC’s “A Team”, Madiba has also joined men and women outside the ANC – Helen Suzman, Steve Biko, Alan Paton, Robert Sobukwe, Cissie Gool, Bennie Kies, Neville Alexander, Zeph Mothopeng and many other leaders.
We are a country that has been blessed by many great and remarkable men and women, all of whom played a critical part in this grand struggle for freedom and dignity. We have been blessed by the contributions of many different movements and formations, both inside and outside the country, each making an indelible imprint on our history. We have been blessed by a struggle that actively involved the masses of the people in their own liberation.
We have been blessed that under the collective leadership of the ANC, we can proudly proclaim that “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white”. We were mightily, and unexpectedly, blessed when the old, oppressive, undemocratic order succumbed and bowed to the inevitable. And then, finally, we were truly blessed by the far-sighted wisdom of our collective leadership – with Madiba at the helm – that took us into a democratic future. For all of this and much more, we are deeply grateful.
We are fortunate that today we live in a noisy and lively democracy. We are eternally grateful that dignity has been restored to all South Africans. We are forever grateful that the lives of many are improving, although not enough yet. We are deeply grateful for a constitution that encompasses all that is good in us and a constitutional order that protects our hard-won freedom. Finally, we are infinitely grateful that each and every one of us, whether we are African, white, coloured or Indian, can proudly call ourselves South Africans.
Mindful of our gains, we nevertheless know that a long, long road lies ahead, with many twists and turns, sometimes through difficult and trying times. Poverty, ill-health and hunger still stalk our land. Greed and avarice show their ugly faces. Xenophobia and intolerance play their mischief in our beautiful land. Parts of the world out there find themselves in unhappy situations; economies falter and stagger; extremism and fundamentalism of all kinds are rampant; the Earth reels from climate change, and the poor battle to survive. Ferocious struggles for democracy unfold daily before our very eyes and the numbers of political prisoners grow in step with rising intolerance. For instance, we think of the Palestinian Marwan Barghouti, who is languishing in an Israeli prison. All of these people and prisoners throughout the world will continue to draw inspiration from the life and legacy of Mandela.
And finally Mr President, I wish to address myself directly to Madala, as we called each other. What do we say to you in these, the last, final moments together, before you exit the public stage forever?
Madala, your abundant reserves of love, simplicity, honesty, service, humility, care, courage, foresight, patience, tolerance, equality and justice continually served as a source of enormous strength to many millions of people in South Africa and the world. You symbolise today, and always will, qualities of collective leadership, reconciliation, unity and forgiveness. You strove daily to build a united, non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa.
In this spirit, so exemplified in your life, it is up to the present and next generations to take up the cudgels where you have left off. It is up to them, through service to deepen our democracy; entrench and defend our constitution; eradicate poverty; eliminate inequality; fight corruption, and serve always with compassion, respect, integrity and tolerance. Above all, they must build our nation and break down the barriers that still divide us.
Xenophobia, racism and sexism must be fought with tenacity, wisdom and enlightenment. Anything that defines someone else as “the other” has to go. Tolerance and understanding must flourish and grow. In all these actions we are and will be guided by your wisdom and deeds.
Today, mingled with our grief is the enormous pride that one of our own has during your life, and now in your death, united the people of South Africa and the entire world on a scale never experienced before in history. Remarkably, in these last few days, the masses of our people, from whatever walk of life, have demonstrated how very connected they feel to you; how the story of your life is their story and how their story is your story. Madala, you captured this relationship beautifully on the occasion of Walter Sisulu’s death, when you said: “We shared the joy of living, and the pain. Together we shared ideas, forged common commitments. We walked side by side through the valley of death, nursing each other’s bruises, holding each other up when our steps faltered. Together we savoured the taste of freedom!”
To Mrs Graça Machel and the Mandela family, our love, respect and support go out to you. We wish there was a way that we could ease your grief and pain. These last few months have been particularly hard, and we trust that in the ensuing weeks you will be able to find the rest and peace you need so much. We mourn with you and wish you strength in this time of need.
Madala, while we may be drowned in sorrow and grief, we salute you as a fighter for freedom to the end. Farewell my elder brother, my mentor, my leader. With all the energy and determination at our command, we pledge to join the people of South Africa and the world to perpetuate the ideals and values for which you have devoted your life.
Hamba Kahle, Madala! Hamba Kahle, my dearest friend!
(from the Guardian)
Nelson Mandela’s daughter Makaziwe has described how the family gathered around him to say goodbye. She also describes her own sometimes difficult relationship with her father and the difficulties of living in a divided family. We republish this because it’s an honest and very moving account of the private Mandela and his family.
Makaziwe Mandela, Mr Mandela’s oldest surviving child, was speaking to the BBC’s Komla Dumor.
Here are some excerpts from that interview:
It has been a very long painful period.
As you know because of the type of family we are, you can’t experience the pain and the trauma, and actually now the loss, privately. We are always constantly, people around and the glare and sometimes you feel like screaming, you know, ‘Can you give us peace, just to have that moment as a family?’ It’s been very, very hard.
He was very, very much loved. He knew that he was loved. Being conscious of all the warmth that came from the world, it’s difficult to say, we tried to explain it to him that, you know, people are outside the hospital singing, putting cards and flowers.
So for me I think Tata, until the last moment, heard us. And the children were there, grandchildren were there, you know, Graca was there, so we were always around him even at the last moment we were sitting with him on Thursday the whole day.
They told us Thursday morning that it’s likely and said to me: ‘Maki call everyone that is here that wants to see him and say bye-bye’.
It was the most wonderful day for us because the grandchildren were there, we were there, the professional doctors, and in actual fact when they saw him slipping away, those doctors dedicated their time. They were running shifts, three-hour shifts, 24 hours.
Being there, it was like they were soldiers guarding this… I don’t know whether you understand this… they were soldiers guarding the spirit of a king. Yes, my father comes from royalty.
And so even for the grandchildren I think it was a wonderful moment. Unfortunately there were some grandchildren and my sisters were out, there were some grandchildren who were participating at some event in Brazil.
But for those who were here I think it was a wonderful moment for them.
I was bitter as child because I had a father who was there but not really there.
My father is awkward with his emotions. People don’t understand that because they see the public persona. But Tata had the public persona and the private persona. He couldn’t express his emotions.
He grew up in a society where you had to be seen but not heard, the African culture, where you learnt by emulating the others before you, where as a man you did not show your emotions.
He couldn’t say the words ‘I love you’. I mean even with the grandchildren, if you talk to them, there’s very few moments where Tata has said ‘I love you’.
The way he knew how to show love was to provide for his children. He bought us all houses. That was his way of showing love.
My family has been a very divided family. My father has had three wives, but I try the best I can. I can never say that I am perfect but one of the things that my father really wanted more than anything is that his own children would get along.
I try to be the word of wisdom. I try to bring, even now everybody together, the grandchildren, it was me who will say ‘I think we should inform this one’. Even with Mandla [her nephew] who I just took to court now.
It was me who said to the doctors ‘I think we should call Mandla now to come’ because I think it was important for all of us to have closure and be united.
Surely we’ll still have differences in how we see things, but I think there is a better way of how to deal with issues. My dad has always said to us ‘Charity begins at home’.
I don’t think my father fought just for political freedom. My father also fought for spiritual freedom, to free yourself spiritually.
He talks about the fact that it takes courage to forgive. Forgiveness is a very difficult thing.
I don’t think it was easy… but I think he knew that if you didn’t forgive he would be forever in prison – himself spiritually.
So for me the lesson we can take away from his life is to have the courage to forgive other people… Because if we have the courage to forgive as human beings, there will be no wars that we see around us, there will be no crime, there will be no violence, there will be no conflict, and for me that’s the greatest gift that Tata has given to the world because he also says none of us when we’re born are born hating another.
We are taught to hate.
And if you can teach a human being to hate, you can also teach a human to love, to embrace, to forgive, and for me that’s the greatest lesson.
From the Daily Maverick: ends with ‘prayers’ that we all can share.
“It’s still nice to dance, crack jokes and wear a loud shirt”
Slightly adapted from a piece by Marelise Van Der Merwe
Our heroes are falling one by one, our police don’t protect us, and our politicians are weak and vicious. And we’ve been hanging onto Mandela as though our lives depend on it, not his; when what we should be doing is using the great gift of introspection that he gave us to pull ourselves from the wreckage.
Newspapers have been on standby in case the news breaks – so much so, in fact, that a DStv channel aired an obituary in error earlier this year, much to the righteous rage of the ANC. The country doesn’t want to look away, in a mixture of mercenary alertness (God forbid we be the newspaper that misses it) and heart-wrenching sadness (he is our everything).
After the DStv obituary aired, ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu flew off the handle somewhat, and I can’t say I blame him. To me, the incident symbolised everything that is wrong with this compulsive Madiba-watching. “This was uncalled for and totally insensitive,” Mthembu fumed. “President Mandela is alive and receiving treatment for a recurring lung infection, as reported by the Presidency.
“We join millions of South Africans and people all over the world in wishing Madiba a speedy recovery and discharge from the hospital. We also join all those who are offering their prayers for the old statesman to get better.”
I must say, though, that Mthembu was wrong on one count. My prayers were not for Madiba’s speedy recovery. My prayers and good wishes were that he would not have a long, drawn-out death; that he would be peaceful; that he would be surrounded by loved ones and look back with satisfaction on the life he lived. He was an old, old man – one who crammed more into his active years outside of jail than most people would do in two lifetimes. He used his jail time, too, to good effect, educating himself and others, spreading messages of peace, and most importantly, working on his inner world – coming to terms with the abuse he had suffered, so that when he came out of jail, he was able to lead us all to genuine reconciliation.
What I didn’t want for him was speculation, the endless watching for whether he made it through the night, the long process of going into hospital, coming back out, labouring for air. There is a reason pneumonia is known as the old man’s friend: it is quick and usually not painful.
If there is anything Madiba taught us, it was gentleness and humanity, not to mention the stupendous power of forgiveness. In my own life, this struggle for forgiveness has been massive, for reasons unrelated to the political climate. But every time the anger comes, I look towards Madiba and remember what the human soul can overcome. He had a profound influence on my life, and I am sure I am not the only one. Part of what made him such a remarkable human being is that you would be hard-pressed to find a person who had not been influenced by him in some way. He was the person who looked through the vicious shells of Apartheid leaders, prison warders; the insensitive crusts of self-righteous whites who did not want to change. He looked through them all, saw the human beings inside, and reached out to them. He gave us all the mercy we so desperately want, and he led others to it, too.
Madiba earned his rest. He earned the right to sit quietly with the people he loved most in this world, and drift gently into the next one. He gave us his life in service – but we didn’t even want to grant him his death. Why did we keep on wanting him to get better, just so that he could go back into hospital? Selfishly, we didn’t want to let go of all he symbolised, so we wanted him to cling to a life that he had, in all honesty, lived out.
Madiba withdrew himself many years ago, as we all know. He did not want public life anymore; what he wanted was a life, a good life, with his family. He was done fighting and wanted happiness. And that, ironically, seems to be the one thing that – for all our claimed love – we didn’t want to grant him.
If you have ever read fairy tales or epics, you will know that a typical plot manoeuvre is for the main character, at the critical stage, to lose his mentor. South Africa is at that critical stage now: we are staring into the abyss, the crisis times have come, and we have lost our father figure. But what happens in these stories? The fighter gets up and carries on; he moves forward with the tools the mentor has given him already. And if it is a good story, he emerges victorious.
Madiba gave us many tools. He is done giving now, and we should accept that. What we can do if we want to honour and respect him is use those tools and remember those lessons. The way I see it, if we really want to show love for Madiba, we should be praying for ourselves.
We should pray that we can learn to forgive like Madiba.
We should pray that we learn to sacrifice, without complaint, for the common good.
We should pray we learn that even time we believe is wasted can be used to achieve so much good: in learning, in thought leadership, in becoming greater within ourselves, while we wait for circumstances beyond our control to change.
We should pray that we learn his great gift of introspection, so that we never let the bitterness grow inside us, even when it seems nothing is changing.
We should pray that we have the courage to speak up and be honest, even if there are grim punishments in store for us when we do.
We should pray to be gentle, but not meek – to fight for what we believe in.
We should pray that even when we are good, good people, we remember that nobody likes a goody-goody: that it’s still nice to dance, crack jokes and wear a loud shirt.
And most of all, we should pray to remember that all great changes begin with the person in the mirror: our own transformation leads it all.
If all South Africans strive for this, maybe, just maybe, we will be able to give Madiba the same gift back that he tried to give to us: a country that works.
He has paid his debt to South Africa, and more. He has led each one of us to strive to be a better person, in a better South Africa. It is time for us to lovingly let him go, and to move forward with the lessons he sacrificed so much to teach us.
After a long search, I’ve just obtained a deleted CD by my favourite singer, the now nearly forgotten Lee Wiley. It originally appeared in the mid fifties as a 10″ album called Lee Wiley Sings Rogers and Hart and the CD includes an added bonus: the original sleeve notes by George Frazier (no, not the boxer, but one of the finest jazz writers ever). As one of our missions is to bring you great writing from perhaps unexpected sources, I thought I’d reproduce the notes here. The Youtube clip, by the way, is of Lee singing Rogers and Hart’s Glad To Be Unhappy, but from an earlier (1940) recording, with Max Kaminsky (trumpet), Joe Bushkin (piano) and Bud Freeman (tenor sax) in the band:
George Frazier wrote:
Lee Wiley is one of the best vocalists who ever lived, with a magical empathy for fine old show tunes and good jazz. Indeed, I know of no one who sings certain songs quite so meaningfully, so wistfully. She is, however, an artistic snob and, consequently, simply awful when (as is blessedly rare) somebody persuades her to experiment with mediocre material. When she doesn’t get a lyric’s message, you might as well call the game because of wet grounds. But given a number worthy of her endowments — well, she is miraculous, as, in fact, she is here.
This is a portfolio of songs by Rogers and Hart — not Rogers and that other fellow (who would be Oscar Hammerstein II, who, no disrespect intended, no Larry Hart, he). These are haunting songs — songs that have withstood the ravaging headlong rush of the years, the fickleness of public taste, and the debasement of the lyric to the nadir where we are subjected to, forgive the expression, Be My Life’s Companion. But whatta hell, whatta hell. The gratifying thing is that Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart (who, although dead and buried these many years, is more artistically alive than the no-talent author of Be My Life’s Companion) turned out some lovely, lovely stuff and that Lee Wiley has a superb affinity for it. To my mind, indeed, she is the definitive interpreter of Rogers and Hart.
I do not in the least mind admitting that it gets me livid when most girl singers make it big, for it is my dour conviction that, by and large, they have plenty of nothing. Lee Wiley, however, is an artist. About the vast art of Miss Wiley there is a sophistication that is both eloquent and enduring and utterly uncontrived. Technically, she may leave something to be desired, but artistically she’s simply magnificent, projecting emotion with dignity and warmth, expressing nuances with exquisite delicacy, and always making you share her bliss or heartbreak. She came to New York from Ft. Gibson, Oklahoma, and before long all the right people were bewitched by her incomparable magic. There is no room here to catalogue all the individuals — that is, the prominent ones — who are Wiley devotees, but right offhand I can think of Bing Crosby, Dorothy Kilgallen, Ted Straeter, Victor Young, Louis Armstrong, and Marlene Dietrich. It is my feeling that they, along with a great many other people, will be grateful for this anthology. To my way of thinking, no better Rogers and Hart collection is available. Since de gustibus and so forth, I should probably mention at this point that I rather wish Miss Wiley had substituted, say, The Lady Is A Tramp or the rarely-heard Imagine for Give It Back To The Indians, but this is carping and, in any event, you cannot really fault Indians. As for my enthusiasms, the rendition of Glad To Be Unhappy is marvellous — a great love song interpreted in all its dark splendour. It is all the love affairs ended, all the marriages put asunder, from the beginning of years. It is Fitzgerald’s rich boy walking into the Plaza that stifling Saturday afternoon and suddenly coming upon his girl of once upon a vanished time, married now and big with imminent child. It is an ineffably haunting song, robust yet gentle, and this is its finest reading. It explains, I think, why Miss Wiley is an unqualified enthusiasm with such not-easily-impressed critics as, for instance, Roger Whitaker of the New Yorker, George Avakian of Columbia Records, and Jack O’Brien of the New York Journal-American.
And here, along with Glad To Be Unhappy, are such other small (and maybe not so small) miracles as My Heart Stood Still, Funny Valentine, It Never Entered My Mind and Mountain Greenery, all of them redolent of the suspenseful moments when the house lights lowered and the curtain went up on another show by Rogers and Hart. These are literate tunes, civilised tunes. Where, if you will, is there a more nearly perfect lyric than in It Never Entered My Mind? To me, it seems the greatest lyric ever written, but until I heard Miss Wiley do it, I never realized that it is the greatest by a prodigious margin.
Right about this point, I suppose, there should be the department of how-about-a-great-big-hand-for-the-boys-in-the-band. As it happens, this is a fine little ensemble, providing an accompaniment that is cohesive, rhythmic and gratifyingly unobtrusive. Its members are all, as Professor Kitteridge used to say of Sam Johnson, good men and four-squares. I would, however, like to put in an extra word or two about the stylish young trumpet player. His name is Ruby Braff and, to my ears, he sounds rather in apostolic succession to the late Bunny Berigan, who, coincidentally enough, accompanied Miss Wiley when she recorded a Gershwin anthology a decade or so ago.
Indeed, if I have any objection to this portfolio, it is that it will doubtless assail me with bittersweet memories — with the stabbing remembrance of the tall, breathtakingly lovely Wellesley girl with whom I was so desperately in love in the long-departed November when the band at the Copley Plaza in Boston used to play My Heart Stood Still as couples tea-danced after football games on crisp Saturday afternoons, with reawakened desire for the succession of exquisite girls with whom I spent many a crepuscular hour listening to cocktail pianists give muted voice to Funny Valentine, of the first time I saw Connecticut Yankee, of — Yes, of the first years of my marriage and listening to Lee Wiley late at night. My wife, who knew more about show tunes than any woman has a right to know, had a special affection for You Took Advantage Of Me and she always sang it when her spirits were high. Afterwards, when she had long ceased to sing it, when a judge had severed that which no man is supposed to put asunder, I lived for more than a year with a girl who I had hoped would make me forget. She was not witty or talented or, for that matter, particularly pretty. But she was very, very sweet and she tried very, very hard, even pretending to appreciate the Wiley records that I used to play over and over again as I clutched at the past and, for a little while indeed, it would actually seem to be kind of wonderful, with the mournful, wailing tugs in the river below and in the distance the Fifty-ninth Street Bridge stretched like a giant necklace as we sat there listening to the songs of heartbreak. There were even moments when I rather fancied myself falling in love again. But always such moments fled, because when Miss Wiley sings, there is nothing affected. So I would sit there and hurt more and more with the remembrance of other, never to be recaptured nights in the same room. Lee Wiley can do that to you — damn her! But damn her gently, because she is, after all, the best we have — the very best.
NB: “She drank like a fish, cussed like a sailor, could treat musicians abusively, and had no qualms about stealing married men – including the star trumpeter and bandleader Bunny Berigan, with whom she recorded. ‘They had a pretty torrid affair,’ says Dan Morgenstern, the celebrated jazz historian. ‘Bunny’s wife hated her.’ But Wiley got away with a lot, for she was a dish, with smoldering sex appeal and dark hair that tumbled past her shoulders.”: from a rather more critical take on Ms Wiley, here.